Paul L. Caron

Monday, February 21, 2022

Georgetown Law Faculty And Students Debate Ilya Shapiro's Fate

Following up on my previous posts (links below): 

Georgetown (2016)David Cole (Georgetown), The University and Freedom of Expression:

It is no mere academic matter if Georgetown Law succumbs to pressure to fire Ilya Shapiro over a pair of offensive tweets.

The controversy surrounding conservative lawyer Ilya Shapiro’s future at Georgetown University Law Center threatens to turn academic freedom on its head. Only days after Georgetown Law announced his appointment last month to head its conservative-leaning Center for the Constitution, touting him as “an expert on the history of Supreme Court nominations, and one of the premier public commentators on constitutional law,” it placed him under investigation and on administrative leave for a pair of tweets that took issue with President Biden’s commitment to nominate a Black woman to replace Justice Breyer on the Supreme Court. Shapiro’s message was offensive, but if academic freedom is to mean anything, those two tweets can’t be a firing offense. And without academic freedom, the voices suppressed are as likely to be those of critical race theorists as opponents of affirmative action.

The concept of academic freedom was initially advanced in the United States by universities and professors as a defense against political intrusions aimed at perceived anarchists, Communists, and other critics of the status quo. Universities argued that because a robust exchange of ideas and free inquiry are essential to the academic enterprise, state officials must respect the independent judgments of universities and the free speech rights of their employees. The Supreme Court’s academic freedom cases have all involved government efforts to banish Communists from campus.

Yet, as Georgetown Law, where I have been a faculty member since 1990, considers whether to fire Ilya Shapiro, the university itself has become the potential threat to academic freedom. If universities do not respect this principle within their own institutions, how will they resist the political encroachments of outsiders? Academic freedom, like the First Amendment itself, does not protect all speech. But it surely protects this speech.

Washington Post op-ed:  Yes, Georgetown Should Fire an Academic For a Racist Tweet, by Paul Butler (Georgetown):

Yes, you should be fired for a tweet if that tweet reveals you do not have the ability to do your job. ...

William M. Treanor, the law school’s dean, described Shapiro’s words as “antithetical to the work that we do here every day to build inclusion, belonging, and respect for diversity.” A large coalition of Georgetown student organizations called for Georgetown to rescind his employment. Now he is on paid leave, pending an investigation into whether he violated the university’s policies on “professional conduct, non-discrimination, and anti-harassment.”

I’ve been a tenured law professor at Georgetown for more than a decade. Let me make this easy for the dean. Yes, Shapiro violated those principles. No, he should not be employed at our school, which educates more Black women than virtually any top law school in the country.

The problem is not that Shapiro is opposed to Biden’s selection criteria. Shapiro is unfit for our community not only because he called Black women “lesser” but also because his tweet evidences a pattern of bias that isn’t just a poor choice of words.

An interesting mix of conservatives and mainly White progressives has risen in Shapiro’s defense. Those on the right deny that Shapiro’s tweet was racist. Some liberals concede that point, but claim academic freedom includes the right to describe Black women pejoratively. ...

There is a necessary — and difficult — line drawn when free speech conflicts with anti-racism values. Shapiro’s “lesser black woman” tweet falls on the wrong side of that line. Being a member of the Georgetown community is a privilege that Shapiro has proven he does not deserve.

Warren Geary (Georgetown 1L), The Disquieting Defense of Ilya Shapiro

Bobby Miller (Georgetown 1L), A Law School Excommunicates a Heretic

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